This is the Fifth Sunday of Easter in Western Christianity, over halfway towards Ascension and Pentecost. Thinking about an Easter Season is out of synch with the culture. After all, the bunny rabbit candy shelves in stores have long been emptied. Even the on-sale left-overs are gone. But the Easter Season goes on. These many weeks are needed.
“Do not be afraid,” (Matt. 28:5) the women at the tomb were told. But they were. They were terrified. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) the women were asked. But where else would they have looked?
At the Ascension of Christ, while his followers were watching, they were asked, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11) The followers of Christ did not just stand there. On Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, people coming from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem and visitors from as far away as Rome heard in their own languages these first Christians speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts 2: l-11)
In between that first Easter and Pentecost Sunday many of us will hear these words: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
We need these words because we today live in a season of fear: images of terrorists. “They are coming to get us,” I heard someone say recently. Fear has a power of its own. It can literally petrify. Fear can cause us to retaliate, or blame anyone and everyone, or shoot in circles. To do so is to fall prey to seeking more death among the dead.
Things could have gone that way after the crucifixion of Christ. What if the angel at the tomb had said, “You better be afraid. Jesus is gone. You are left on your own,” instead of “He has been raised . . . he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” (Mark 16:6-7)
What if as Christ ascended he had said, “I’m leaving you to your fears. I’m not going to protect you or guide you anymore. Too bad.” But rather he opened the disciples’ minds to understand about his suffering and ours and about repentance and forgiveness of sins and said, “You are my witnesses.” (Luke 24:47-51)
And on Pentecost, what if those first believers in Christ, bold enough to speak about Christ’s life in the face of death had been misunderstood? Well, by some they were. Some sneered. (Acts 2:13) But, amazingly, many heard that this man Jesus who was killed, God raised up, having freed from death because he couldn’t be held in death’s power. (Acts 2:22-24) About three thousand people believed and came together in community. (Acts 2:41-42)
Particularly when insidious fear erupts from terrorizing situations and others use that fear to gain advantage, notoriety, and power, building communities—inter-religious communities—where we can trust one another is urgently needed. We need the courage to form communities of love toward one another.
Hearing, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,” is challenging in the midst of not knowing what comes next. It calls for the difficult work of reconciliation. Christ could not be held in death’s power. Neither can we.